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Abraham collapses during mayoral debate

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham collapsed during the first televised mayoral debate Tuesday night, casting a pall over the event and the future of her campaign.

Mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham collapses on stage. (Screen grab: NBC10)
Mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham collapses on stage. (Screen grab: NBC10)Read more

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham collapsed during the first televised mayoral debate Tuesday night, casting a pall over the event and the future of her campaign.

Abraham, 74, crumpled to the floor seven minutes into the hour-long debate at the Kimmel Center.

As she lay motionless at the base of her lectern, other candidates and the debate moderator, NBC10 anchor Jim Rosenfield, rushed to her aid. Someone called out, "Is there a doctor in the house?"

After a few minutes, Abraham began moving and tried to sit up, telling those around her, "I'm all right." Those helping her, however, kept her seated, holding her steady.

Fellow candidate Nelson A. Diaz, who was next to her, said she told him she had not eaten all day.

She was eventually helped to her feet and taken backstage, where she was examined by a doctor, who said her blood pressure was low and advised her not to return to the debate. It continued in her absence, her empty lectern looming large at the end of the row.

After the debate, a smiling Abraham met with reporters, flashing them two thumbs up while assuring them she was fine and still a candidate in the May 19 Democratic primary.

"While I was standing there looking at Tony, the lights went out," Abraham said, referring to State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who was answering a debate question when she collapsed. "I'm embarrassed, but I'm quite well."

She said that this was the first time she had fainted. She said she planned to be back on the campaign trail Wednesday with a full day.

The collapse, however, is a serious setback for a candidate who has already had to fend off questions about her age.

"The sad thing is, people faint, but for this to happen now is devastating," said Larry Ceisler, a political media consultant. "How does she explain to voters, how does she explain to people she wants to raise money from, that she is healthy and vibrant, and that she can take the pressure of the job?"

Dan Fee, another local political consultant, said pressure will mount on Abraham to release her medical records.

"It won't be enough just to say, 'I'm fit as a fiddle,' " he said. "She is going to have to prove it."

Ken Smukler, another local political consultant, was blunter.

"The last thing a 74-year-old candidate needs to have happen is to collapse in a debate," he said. "I don't know how you spin your way out of this."

He said James F. Kenney would be the beneficiary, as he and Abraham share the same base of white rowhouse voters.

"I think, for every minute that she was on the floor, Jimmy went up a point in the polls," Smukler said.

Michael Hagan, a political science professor at Temple University and founder of the university's Public Affairs Institute, was one of the few experts who thought the long-term impact on Abraham's campaign was minimal. Nevertheless, her collapse overshadowed the event to everyone else's detriment.

"Lead story will be her condition. So that's going to be a problem for everyone else," Hagan said, because their messages won't get out.

For the most part, the other candidates - Diaz, Kenney, Williams, T. Milton Street Sr., and Doug Oliver - kept largely to their campaign scripts, rarely sparring with one another.

There was uniformity in that none of the candidates wanted to adopt Mayor Nutter's 9.3 percent property tax increase to fund schools, but little agreement on what else to do.

There was a general consensus that there needed to be a reduction in the wage tax, but only Kenney said the fiscal realities were such that the trims had to be slow and deliberate.

Kenney was challenged on his famous temper and past intemperate Twitter feeds. He acknowledged that he was sometimes impetuous in the past, but claimed he has learned the value of self-control.

"I think I've conducted myself quite well during this campaign," he said. "And I will continue to do so."

Williams was questioned about "dark money" supporting his campaign, a reference to the American Cities political action committee that is funded by three Main Line financial traders. The PAC has already spent more than $1 million in ads for Williams.

"Much has been written about that. My money is not dark," Williams said. "It is pretty transparent. They write about it every day."

He noted Kenney's campaign was also benefiting from "dark money" support, in the form of ads purchased by two groups - Building a Better Pennsylvania and Forward Philadelphia.

Street was asked why Philadelphians should trust him, given that he spent time in federal prison for not paying taxes.

"They don't have to trust me," he said. "But I have a plan to stop violence. Do you want to save your children or do you want to talk about Milton Street going to federal prison?"

Street had an unexpected defender in Williams, who thought the question was unfair.

"We have a ton of Philadelphians who are reentering society" after serving time, Williams said. "Here is an example of what one can do in terms of reconstituting a life. Can you imagine someone, after they come back home, after they pay their debt to society, and, most importantly, they run for mayor? I think that is admirable, not a negative."

After a long pause, Street spoke up: "I vote for Tony Williams for mayor."